TechArb startup creates new fuel injector

By Ariana Assaf, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 15, 2013

Two engineering students have created a new method of fuel injection to make small engines more environmentally friendly.

Engineering graduate student Lihang Nong and Engineering alum Brett Merkel began work on PicoSpray in the University’s TechArb start-up lab in November 2010.

The PicoSpray electronic fuel injection device sprays fuel mist into a small engine’s combustion chamber, a process which aims to replace the more traditional but less efficient carburetor in most engines.

The team is targeting the product for small engine manufacturers. In the past, the high cost of adding an electronic fuel injection system has dissuaded manufacturers from including the device in their already costly engines. However, PicoSpray advertises its ability to decrease both an engine’s emissions and cost by using fewer parts than traditional fuel injection devices. This makes them easier to install and saves about 70 percent of the cost in mechanical parts, Nong explained.

Even individual buyers are becoming interested in fuel injectors like PicoSpray to increase longevity and overall function of various small engines.

Merkel, who also founded the student-run Supermileage team, which focuses on “designing the most fuel-efficient internal combustion concept car in North America,” was already interested in energy efficient transportation “that aligned with PicoSpray,” he said.

Merkel joined Nong in Sept. 2011 for the Clean Energy Venture Challenge. They also entered their design in iStart’s Clean Energy Challenge 2012, aimed at discovering and rewarding clean energy business start-ups. They made it to the final round of the competition in Feb. 2012 and received third place.

PicoSpray’s page on the iStart website points out that small engines, such as those in motorcycles, lawnmowers and generators create much more pollution worldwide than large engines, such as those in cars.

The innovation’s creators are confident that increased fuel emission regulations will lead to small engine manufacturer’s need for a more efficient fuel injector option, both in the United States and abroad.

“New motorcycles produced in countries such as Taiwan and Thailand are already mostly fuel-injected,” said Nong.

A similar phenomenon took place 20 years ago, when almost all cars became fuel-injected over a 10-year period as a result of increased fuel prices and stricter government emission standards.

The two intend to put together a larger team to mass-produce their product, but this will take a greater amount of time and money. They expect to sell about 5,000 devices at $200 to $300 each in the first year.

Merkel graduated last April and is now employed at Stryker, a medical technology company. PicoSpray has hired two new full time workers, and is working on getting their design patented.